Our First and Most Important Duty Is Love…

…for without love there can be no service“.
Mother Demetrias, Founder of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

On Sunday, April 23rd, Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President, joyfully welcomed approximately 60 people to the annual Donor Appreciation Mass and Brunch at the Mission Helper Center. Sr. Liz thanked our donors for their continued loving accompaniment and support of the ministries of the Mission Helpers, confirming that these are vital to the continued thriving of our varied works.

Rev. George Witt, SJ, Provincial Assistant for Spirituality Ministries of the Maryland Jesuit Province, presided at the liturgy. He reminded the congregation  that after the Resurrection the apostles were sent out on mission to carry on the work of Jesus.  Referencing the words of Acts 1:8,  “You shall be witnesses unto me to the uttermost parts of the earth”, he noted that this is also the call of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

After Mass, guests and Sisters enjoyed a delicious brunch in the dining room, prepared by Carolyn Rodgers. Patricia Dodd, Mission Advancement Director, thanked the assembled gathering for their loyal support. Two MHSH Sisters, Onellys Villegas and Danielle Murphy, spoke about their ministries, which are made possible in part by the financial support of our donors. Sr. Onellys spoke movingly about her full-time work with women victims of domestic violence through the House of Ruth. Sr. Danielle, now semi-retired, performs visitation ministry through Oak Crest Retirement Community, and also tutors children at the Immigration Outreach Service Center of St. Matthew Parish.

Attendees were given cards created by Administrative Assistant Tom Mackin, each with a quote from Mother Demetrias, including the title quote, above.

“It’s amazing what a congregation of women can do!”

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart

–Excerpts from a homily given by Bishop Denis J. Madden on
October 10, 2014, at a Mass marking the beginning of the
Community’s yearlong anniversary celebration

Bishop Denis J. Madden delivering the homily at the Mission Helpers Anniversary Mass.
Bishop Denis J. Madden delivering the homily at the Mission Helpers Anniversary Mass.

In the annals of the Mission Helpers we read, “United in their love for the poor, early Mission Helpers banded together to incarnate God’s love for all those who are spiritually or temporally in need.”

Mother Demetrias (Mission Helpers’ foundress) took to heart the words we heard this evening from John’s first letter:

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.”

Just the other day…I saw a man with a bent back walking down the street. I could not see his face, only his hunched back. And by the grace of God I could see and experience the presence of God in him. I thanked God for that visit and at the same time wondered how often have I missed His other appearances.

You, my dear Sisters, have not missed these sightings of the Lord; you, my dear Sisters, have not missed the Lord coming among us for the last 125 years in various shapes and forms—now that’s a lot of sightings!

With no anxiety but in a spirit of thankfulness at being able to serve the Lord by serving others your missions have taken you all over the United States, to central and south America, and your ministries have extended beyond the borders of the classroom to faith formation, spiritual direction, hospital ministry, care of the elderly…You have served in centers for those with special needs and offered shelter and protection to abused women and extended a welcome to asylum seekers.

Pope St. John Paul II said: “To welcome the weakest, helping them on life’s journey, is a sign of civilization. These persons belong in every way to the category of the poor whom Jesus reminded us in his beatitudes ‘will inherit the Kingdom of God’.”

The Mission Helpers bless the congregation while singing Sacrum Cor Jesu.
The Mission Helpers bless the congregation while singing Sacrum Cor Jesu.

My dear Sisters, you have been doing this for 125 years, and I am especially thankful that you have been doing it here in this Archdiocese where you have served in more than 150 parishes and countless social service centers.

From your earliest days you were known as “new kinds of Sisters.” You were not the traditional school teachers or nurses. Instead you went out among the people, reached out to those who were the most alienated or neglected by society, and responded to their needs.

It’s amazing what a whole group, a congregation of women, can do! It’s amazing what a group that takes the Gospel seriously can do.

How sorely the world and this local Church today still need your presence and your service so filled with love. You, the good Mission Helpers, change people’s lives, you give hope when there is no reason to hope, and you bring joy when lives are surrounded by darkness. Can anyone thank you enough for this? I don’t think so, but at least we can try.

Bishop Madden and Seminarian John Martinez, St. Mary’s Seminary
Bishop Madden and Seminarian John Martinez, St. Mary’s Seminary

May God continue to show His face to you and bless you with His most favored Blessings.

Celebrating the Birthday of Mary Frances Cunningham (Mother Demetrias)

“For the love of God, let me go…”
                                                                              –Mary Frances  Cunningham, Founder                                                                                  Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart                                                                                  1859-1940

Born on October 8, 1859, Mary Frances Cunningham grew up in Washington, DC, in the shadow of a Union Army Barracks during the bloody years of the Civil War.

Her parents, both Irish immigrants, had 13 children; Mary Frances was the oldest.

When she was 10 years old, the family moved to Baltimore, where thousands of freed slaves had settled following the Emancipation Act of 1863.  “It was a time,” wrote a Catholic historian, “…when the majority of the colored people were thrown into an entirely different mode of life [that] caused great evils…colored Catholics fell away by the thousands…”

As a young woman in Baltimore in the 1880s, Mary Frances was a devout and active member of St. Martin’s Parish in West Baltimore. She was distressed to see that the black children in the neighborhood were not allowed to receive religious instruction in the church.

The feisty Mary Frances requested and received permission to form a Sunday School for the children and teach them on the steps of the church.  One Sunday morning it rained and she took the children into the church basement, a major breakthrough in the late 1880s.

She soon partnered with other women who were working with black children and their families elsewhere in Baltimore.  They were known as the St. Joseph’s Guild.  In 1890 the women leased a house and began readying it for a retreat, which they hoped would help them to discern the will of God.

At the end of the retreat, the women felt that God had willed the foundation of a community devoted to the religious instruction of black people.  James Cardinal Gibbons—the first American Cardinal—accepted and approved the decision, and candidates for membership were received and resided in the house.

But Mary Frances Cunningham needed the permission of her pastor to join the new endeavor.  He refused.  She went to him repeatedly, but he continued to withhold his permission.  Finally, according to the Mission Helpers archives, “she threw herself onto her knees before him and pleaded:  ‘For the love of God, let me go!’

The priest finally agreed to let Cardinal Gibbons decide the matter and he did, with the words:  “Let her go; something may come of it.”

And so began the work of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

Happy Birthday, Mary Frances Cunningham, a.k.a. Mother Demetrias

We Go Where God Calls Us…

Habits of the Heart

Belonging of Mother DemetriasA recent front-page article in the Towson Times put the spotlight on the Mission Helpers, whose home, since the 1920s, has been in the heart of Towson, but little known to most of its neighbors. The Towson Times is a weekly newspaper serving central and northern Baltimore County.

Click above on “Habits of the Heart” to see how the “Mission Helpers Community touches the world from its Towson motherhouse.”